Before I fell in love with my Advertising/Public Relations major and decided that I would end up somewhere in the public relations field, I was a journalist through and through. I wrote for and edited my school yearbook, participated in both county-wide and national competitions, attended various workshops across the country and published several articles in the local newspaper. Suffice to say, journalism was my passion. Early on, that passion began to fade, but as my career goals transitioned to a different subset of communications, I was able to apply a lot of what I learned in journalism to my writing for public relations and other areas.
I am by no means an expert, but my inner-editor always cringes when I see some of the more commonly made mistakes in the articles I read. Conversely, when I look at some national publications and read their feature articles, I can’t help but want to become a better writer. This week, I would like to share with readers my own tips for writing those memorable articles and avoiding any major faux pas.
The Friday Five: Tips For Young Journalists
1. Purchase an up-to-date AP Style Guide…
… and don’t just let it gather dust on your shelf. Although every publication you write for will have a few slight variations in style, there are some basic concepts that you will want to master. Not only does this alleviate the revision process for your editor, but it also makes you seem more professional. Everyone knows the rules for placing commas, but it is important to learn the nuances as well: “more than” vs. “over,” “among” vs. “between,” etc. Make sure everything is free of any spelling or grammatical errors as well.
2. Don’t rely fully on your thesaurus.
It is only too obvious when a writer includes an adjective that he or she doesn’t fully understand or know how to use. Instead of trying desperately to figure out how to insert an SAT vocabulary word into your article, go for something simple. Your audience will thank you for it.
3. Quotes should enhance your story, not distract your readers.
Interviews play a huge role in the research process and have two major purposes: to gather information and to provide quotes for your article. Quotes from the proper sources add a certain spice to your story that the hard facts wouldn’t; they give it the voice and emotion that you as an impartial party cannot do yourself. However, the interview alone is not enough. Some writers struggle with the selection of quotes for their articles, and either choose the least expressive quotes or the extremely long ones. By the end of most questions, we all tend to ramble a bit, and so it is important to utilize the most effective quotes/soundbytes for the little space you have. It is never okay to alter the subject’s words, but cutting the quote at the part where he or she started to repeat him or herself is always recommended.
4. Read your work aloud.
Read it twice. Read it three times. Read it to your friends, parents or dogs. Have your friends, parents or dogs read it back. One trick I always learned: if you stumble over a word or phrase, change it, because your readers will be doing the same. Reading aloud also helps you catch any typos or missing/repeated words throughout your piece. This saves your editor a lot of trouble as well, but also helps you in situations when you don’t have an editor to read your work.
5. Go the extra mile.
Yes, this is a cliche, but this tip will serve you well in the world of journalism. When you are writing a story about a subject you don’t know (and trust the girl who wrote about video game tournaments, among other things: this will happen to you), you should strive to become a temporary expert in that area. Don’t rely only on interviews when doing your research; read up on your topic and know it well before you write about it. Readers who are familiar with your subject will know if you haven’t done your homework. If you don’t know something, find out. Even though you won’t be able to include all of this information in your article if you want to fit your word count, this extra step will make you a source that readers can trust.
Journalists, what recommendations do you have for emerging writers? What are some of the common mistakes you see?
Note to readers: This is officially my 100th post — thank you to everyone for an amazing first year of blogging!